About the Author

Tom Henry

Tom Henry was born in Duncan, BC in 1961. He earned his BA in history from the University of Victoria, and has worked on tugboats, in logging camps and owned his own firewood business. A former staff writer for Monday Magazine, Henry has authored several books including Westcoasters: Boats that Built BC (winner of the Bill Duthie Booksellers` Choice Award), The Good Company: An Affectionate History of the Union Steamships (winner of the BC Historical Federation's Lieutenant Governor's Award), Dogless in Metchosin, The Ideal Dog and Other Delusions, Paul Bunyan on the West Coast and Small City in a Big Valley: The Story of Duncan. Henry's audiotape of readings from Dogless in Metchosin is popular with listeners who know him from his CBC Radio "Country Life" column. He lives in Victoria, BC.

Books by this Author
Dogless in Metchosin

Dogless in Metchosin

also available: Paperback
tagged : essays
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Following the Boulder Train

Following the Boulder Train

Travels with Prospectors and Rock Doctors
edition:Hardcover
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Inside Fighter

Inside Fighter

Dave Brown's Remarkable Stories of Canadian Boxing
edition:Hardcover
tagged : boxing
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Paul Bunyan on the West Coast

Paul Bunyan on the West Coast

illustrated by Kim La Fave
by Tom Henry
edition:Paperback
tagged :
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Small City in a Big Valley

Small City in a Big Valley

The Story of Duncan
edition:Hardcover
tagged :
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Excerpt

Most settlers started with a lean-to shelter. In the nearby forest they felled timber in every direction for more than a tree length, so that the centre of the clearing was beyond the reach of the tallest windfall. In this area they constructed a log cabin. A settler's first cabin was always called Bachelor's Hall. William Duncan's Bachelor's Hall was about where Ypres Street intersects Trunk Road. Other settlers thought it luxurious because the walls were hewn on both sides instead of just one. All cabins were built from plans settlers carried in their heads, but they were remarkably similar. Usually about 3 metres wide and 5 metres long, they were low-walled, built of logs chinked with mud, and capped with a roof of hand-split cedar shakes. At one end was a door with a low lintel and at the other a fireplace built of fieldstone and puddled clay. An iron bar was fixed to the fireplace and from it hung a hook. A large cast-iron pot swung from the hook and into it went venison duck, goose, quail, salmon, trout, edible camas and watercress. Grouse and grouse eggs were a favourite meal. So were beans and bacon-poured over flapjacks they were known as "deadshot." In one corner of the cabin was a shakedown of straw under a three-stripe Hudson's Bay blanket and in another corner was an axe-hewn table graced by two primitive chairs. Between these simple furnishings there was just enough room for a slim man to manoeuvre.

The cabin was the settler's base. Each morning, often before dawn, he emerged to advance his claim. Chores first, then the interminable land clearing. A visitor passing by William Duncan in 1865 or '68 or '72 would have seen the same picture: a man with his shirt sleeves rolled UP, inscribed in the flashing arc of an axe. The forest was the enemy. It had to be beaten back. Settlers in the Duncan area were more fortunate than their high-ground counterparts in that alder and maple covered much of the area. Hardwoods were easier to deal with than conifers. Felled in a pick-up sticks jackpot, they were chopped into lengths. (Functional bucking saws were not available until the 1880s.) The stumps remained in the ground; grass and crops were seeded by hand around them. When the logs on one claim had dried, settlers from surrounding claims arrived to help with the burning. Such events were called work bees and were later remembered as the most enjoyable of settlers' tasks. Men working behind one team of oxen competed with men working behind another team of oxen to see who could build the largest pyre. Afterwards, they feasted on roast pork or beef, freshly slain for the occasion. Then they returned to work their own claims.

A largely solitary life of hard work was dangerous to both spirit and body. A document found at the turn of the century recorded that 25 percent of the deaths in Cowichan in the late 1800s were work-related. According to the Register of Births, Deaths, Marriages and Cattle Brands, many fatalities were from falling trees and branches. Gunshot wounds killed settlers, as did bone-snapping kicks from horses. Even domestic chores were risky: the register's first entry is of a young girl who choked to death on a crabapple; the second is of an infant who died when scalded by hot water. Death came all ways. Historian Elizabeth Norcross tells the story of a young settler who broke his leg. He crawled from his cabin to the junction of two trails where he was found and carried on a stretcher to Cowichan Bay. He was taken by canoe to Saanich and by cart to Victoria. Exhausted from the travelling, he died several days later.

Adorning the settlers' simple life were a few social events, such as St. Peter's Spring Tea or the Cowichan and Saltspring Fall Fair, established in 1868 to showcase local agricultural goods. At these get-togethers settlers talked about farming or the perpetually off-schedule Maple Bay steamer and, if they were fortunate, met an eligible woman. There was such a scarcity of European women in BC that a society was formed to send out single females from Britain. Few of these beskirted emigrants made it beyond the bachelor-crowded docks in Victoria. One who did was Sarah Annie Ingram. Born on a farm in Donegal, Ireland, in 1845, Ingram was a bird-like woman with a frail body and quick, see-all eyes. When she was twenty-seven, Sarah and her sister Isabella came to BC. On the journey across the Atlantic, Sarah mentioned to her fellow passengers that she was bound for Vancouver Island. No one on board had heard of such a place.

At first the sisters lived in Victoria; when Isabella married Charles Todd they all moved to Saanich. Todd, as it happened, had worked in the goldfields with William Duncan. On a chance steamer excursion to the Cowichan Fall Fair in 1872, the threesome ran into Duncan, who had just walked four hours from his claim to eye the local produce but was still energetic enough to impress Sarah. After a suitable courtship he proposed. The two were married in 1876 in Victoria's St. John's Iron Church and left immediately for Duncan's farm: "We had breakfast and then went on board the steamer for Maple Bay," Sarah recalled years later, land that was the beginning of my life in the bush."

Sarah Annie Ingram transformed William Duncan's life in the way a lace doily graces a barren table. William Duncan always had the dour Scots in him; a November-rain seriousness affected everything he did. Sarah, in comparison, saw pretty patterns in her tea leaves, had a bit of the fay about her and was relentlessly cheery. She was not a physically powerful woman and steadfastly refused to accept dawn-to-dusk labours as the necessary fate of a pioneer homemaker. On the day she arrived at William Duncan's cabin, she dragged a hard-backed chair to an east-facing window and positioned it where she could see Mt. Tzouhalem. Her travelling days were done, she said. For the rest of her life Sarah Duncan never ventured more than a few miles from the home. She bore seven children, did chores and needlework, read voraciously, lived long. (In her late eighties she was still scything thistles and at eighty-nine, in 1933, she was reading travel books. "Sometimes" she told a reporter, "I wonder why people live so long.")

With Sarah looking after the house, William Duncan was able to devote himself to the farm, which was to the cast of their Brae Road home. He planted an apple orchard and brought in dairy cattle. He grew raspberries and vegetables. Long rows of strawberries ran down the slopes from his house: Warfields, Wilsons and plum-sized Sharpless, for which he took firsts at the Cowichan Horticultural, Dog and Poultry Show. His stable was the envy of neighbouring settlers, his alfalfa dense and sweet. His fields were thick with corn, wheat and splendid crops of oats that grew head high. "Mr. Duncan believes in general farming, even to bee keeping," wrote an admiring visitor to the farm." [He] is a very careful man and very methodical in his habits; everything is done by routine so that when he goes in the house at night he can rest, for the day's work has been well and regularly done, everything having been properly looked after."

In the Beginning

If the Duncan area's first inhabitants were ultimately from "Somewhere else," so too was the land. Below the alluvial soils on which the city is built lies a massive rock shelf formed from a series of volcanic eruptions south of the equator 370 million years ago. The Wrangellia terrane, as it is called, drifted northward among the earth's plates at a millimetres-per-millennium speed until it came to a geological thud against the westerly moving North American continent. It in turn was rammed by other rogue terranes, thereby creating the unique trainwreck structure of southern Vancouver Island geology.

That's the big picture, The details of the Cowichan Valley's profile owe more to the glaciers and the Cowichan River. Starting two million years ago, a series of ice sheets emerged from the island's mountainous interior and inched southeast. Working like sandpaper on rough-cut lumber, they rounded the valley's sides and bottom and created the open book U-shape. The last of these ice sheets, the Fraser Glaciation, was so heavy that it depressed the earth's surface below sea level. For several thousand years the valley teemed with fish. When the Fraser Glaciation retreated, starting 15,000 years ago, the area rebounded. At the same time, glacial meltwater freighted the valley bottom with the rich sedimentary deposits that make it such fine agricultural land.

Compared with the forces of rock and ice, the Cowichan River seems more like a tuning fork than an instrument of large-scale topographical transformation. Yet time and the infinite power of running water wrought change. Before it was dyked and channelled in the 1880s, the Cowichan was, literally, a Hydra-headed force roaming freely over the eastern end of the valley, including what is now City of Duncan territory. Spring freshets often sent an arm of the river freelancing away from the main channel, carving new paths in the lightly packed sediments and buckling around areas of dense aggregate. Geologists believe it was such a scenario that created two of Duncan's more prominent features: the tree-covered mound south of Government Street known as Strawberry Hill and the block-and-a half-long ridge between Brae Road and Duncan Street where William Duncan built his home. As recently as the 1850s, the Brae Road mound was bordered by a snaking arm of the Cowichan River, which brought ducks, trout and salmon to the city's south border. And to the east of Brae Road, between St. Julian Street and the Trans-Canada Highway, a river-created gully remained until the 1940s.

A similar but more ancient deviation in the river's course also created the bluff on the town's west and north sides. What was once a tree-lined bank of the Cowichan River now distinctly separates the benchland neighbourhoods of Centennial Heights and Buena Vista from the rest of the city.

A Recipe for Bees

"All the settlers was dead broke," was how John Newell Evans often began his recollections of pioneer life in the Cowichan Valley. A friend of William Chalmers Duncan and later a long-time Municipality of North Cowichan alderman, the bushy-bearded Evans was also a prolific amateur historian, recording everything from the settlers' dietary favourites (potatoes cooked in their jackets) to the choicest wood for retoothing a harrow (crabapple). In a speech in the 1920s when he was in his sixties, Evans described the settlers' work bees - the co-operative efforts by which they helped each other clear land, build cabins and harvest crops.

"First you would go into the woods and cut a big supply of hand spikes and skid poles to roll up your logs. Then you would set the date for your bee, and all your neighbours would answer your call.

There never was no lack of men. You usually got two yoke of oxen, and divided your crew into two parts, appointing a captain for each. Then the rivalry would commence, to see which team could pile the most logs.

Then we had raising or building bees, for bear in mind, there were but two saw mills operating, at Mill Bay and on the South side of Esquimalt Harbour. Most of the lumber used was whip-sawed at home, and you may say that running a whip-saw was a bee on a small scale. When you run a whip-saw, you have to have a pit. One man stands above the pit and takes the other end of the saw. The man that helped you got no pay; you returned his labour later.

All our buildings were of logs, cut in the Spring when the sap was running in the trees. You would bark your tree as you cut it down, when it is more easily barked, for if left unbarked on the ground for a very few days, you would have to chip off all the bark with your axe. For foundations, you would haul in large boulders on a stone boat.

Your neighbours would assemble early, and you would select the four best axe men as your corner men, for notching the corners. Even in those days, there were good axe men and poor axe men. The ground men rolled up the logs on skid poles to the corner men. When the building got too high, the corner men would tie ropes to the last log and pass the bight down to the ground men, who put the log in the bight. The corner men would haul on the ropes, while the ground men helped roll the log up as far as they could reach, then pushed with pike poles until the log reached the top of the wall. The roof was rafters and ribs of good straight poles, covered with split cedar shakes, split by hand with a froe.

On harvesting bees, it was a pretty sight to see half a dozen men going down a field, keeping in perfect time together in the swing of their scythes . . . The thrashing was done with a flail, which we in the early days dubbed "the poverty stick!"

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The Good Company

The Good Company

An Affectionate History of the Union Steamships
edition:Hardcover
tagged : history, pictorial
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The Ideal Dog

The Ideal Dog

And Other Delusions
by Tom Henry
illustrated by Greta Guzek
edition:Hardcover
tagged : essays
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Excerpt

ACCOUNTING FOR THE WOODPILE

When a surprise southwest gale recently toppled three tall balsams on an adjoining property, I was invited to salvage the wood. The drawback was that the trees had gone over in an area I couldn't get my truck into. After cutting the logs into rounds, I had to wheelbarrow them up a path to the driveway, where I halved and quartered them. I tossed the chunks in my truck and drove my truck to our yard. Then I carried the pieces from my truck to the woodpile, where I stacked them in sturdy, rectangular rows. By the time I was finished I had touched every piece of wood a half dozen times, and knew each so intimately I could have named them.

The stack measures out to 650 cubic feet, or slightly more than five cords. Purchased from a wood seller, five cords bought at this time of year would cost $500. And $500 divided by the several days it took me to cut and haul the wood, to say nothing of the cost of gas and oil for the chain saw or the stainless steel thermos I squashed, works out to about $5 per hour. It is clear from the bookkeeping that if I work hard and long at this sort of money-saving venture, I'm destined to go dead broke.

That is the sort of accounting dilemma we regularly face in the country. Do you justify the time it takes to put up your own wood, and grow food in the garden, and put up preserves, by traditional economics? Or do you ignore accounting altogether, pick blackberries until you are purple, then have to beg off another month's rent? The former is retentive banker's thinking, the latter plain irresponsible.

One answer, suggested to me by a moustachioed, cleftchinned friend named Eric, is that we need another form of accounting, as rigorous as an actuarial table but incorporating elements other than interest rates. For instance, Eric would include in his accounting a heading titled Appetite. Eric is a lawyer. Most of his days are passed at a desk. His tiny appetite is a function of the office clock, not his body. When he works on his small farm, however, he generates a large appetite. He says he pays 1, 000 a month mortgage for the hunger, and the farm gets thrown in for free. He tallies his meals at $12 each.

Also on Eric's accounting list: Pleasurable Weariness and Sound Sleep. The ecstasy of a sore back and swollen forearms is not something you can buy. After a day digging fence post holes in his heavy clay soil, Eric goes directly from work clothes to bath, and bath to dressing gown. He lies on the floor in front of the fire and emits a low, self-satisfied groan that lasts for three hours. The post holes he could have had dug for $2 each; the evenings he figures are worth $50 apiece.

Perhaps the most profitable feature of Eric's accounting system shows up under the heading Interesting Innovative Thoughts. With the body occupied in shovelling manure or other physical activities, his mind is free to holiday. It goes where it wants, riding notions bareback. Work. Family. The corner of the pole barn that is sloughing into the creek. Such freedom isn't cheap, Eric said to me one day, so he bills out at $200 a day. And you don't need many $200 days, he declared, to change the gloomy economics of farm projects.

It took Eric the best part of a morning to tell me about his accounting system. He was on one side of his fence, leaning on his shovel the way Charlie Chaplin used to lean on his cane, and I was perched on my truck. Finally I said I had to go.

"We're not making any money standing here," I pointed out.

Eric shook his head. "You don't understand," he said. "The way I've got it figured, we're making lots of money shooting the breeze. It's work we can't afford to go back to."

FIRE-TENDER

For the last three days our cabin has been enveloped in an eyewatering, acidic white smoke. It's the kind of smoke you can taste in the grit under your fingernails, and smell on the bathroom towels. The smoke comes from fires we've had going in the bush. We have five: one in front of the guest shack, three around what we call Lucy's garden, and one that started by the bluff but has since snuck, like an arsonist, toward the old horse shed. I was so worried about that fire I woke last night and padded out there in my dressing gown to check it. The fire was asleep, but in that too-quiet way kids use to fool parents. So I poked it.

Of all the elements, fire is the most lifelike. It hides, sneaks, stinks and reproduces. Which, according to Tom Henry biology, are the basics of life. Fires are also moody, placing them among the Higher Orders.

Fires are our biannual attempt to keep order in our yard: one in spring, one in fall. All summer the forest rains needles and limbs, and we rake them into great heaps, like beaver dams. By September the wind and sun have dried the heaps enough so they can be lit with a handful of newspaper. Ours took off with the help of a brisk northerly, so the smoke ran low on the ground and burst out into the bay, as if shot from a cannon. And all along the road into town last week, white plumes billowed out of the forest as our neighbours, like us, took advantage of a wetting shower to torch a summer's worth of debris.

There's always a collective pause in the community when these fires take off: the bright yellow of licking flames and a high-rising smudge can mean a good neighbour, or it can signal the construction of yet another house. First the fire, then the carpenters; then, before you know it, someone else is selling free-range eggs.

Some country tasks, like wood cutting or coop cleaning, are never ending. With fires, though, it's a quick hit. You light them, and that's your life for the next few days. It's like having a guest in the house: fires are all you can think of Our house smells of smoke; our clothes are thick with it; pastel fires have suddenly blossomed on Lily's artwork. "If the sun is a big fire," she asked, "who lit it?"

There's something invigorating about fire. It's like stump clearing or rock picking: there is the feeling of progress about it, a kind of optimism that our forebears must have felt when they cleared the land. It's the first step in taming the wilderness.

I know the energy of it infected the youngest and oldest residents of the property. Lily, age five, and Mavis, age eightytwo, set to the fires with a pioneer's vigour. They dragged fallen limbs from the salal, sometimes working alone, sometimes together, and heaved them into the blaze. My thinking has always been that fires burn best if someone stares at the flames, and that is largely what I did. The most work I did was moving from one fire to stare at another. Around the yard I went, like a window shopper looking at TVs. My biggest problem was smoking: how can you justify having a cigarette when you're coughing wood smoke?

Meanwhile, Mavis and Lily, who averaged out to one healthy forty-threeyear-old, heaped up another fire. Yesterday, while they were working and I wasn't, it occurred to me that I'd like to a have a job tending fires. A fire-tender, I'd call myself I'd have a red truck with a winch on the front and a brother in the back, or maybe two...

Today that fancy is gone. The fires are embers. There is other work to be done. The one fire that remains, the sneaky one, is sending up a lazy smudge, and an easy southwesterly is taking it over Victoria, towards the Big Smoke. I'm keeping my eye on it.

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Westcoasters

Westcoasters

Boats That Built BC
edition:Paperback
tagged : history, pictorial
More Info
Excerpt

Discovery

For a nation with great maritime pretensions, Britain in the late 1700s built some awful ships. Stubby in the bow and stern, they looked extruded instead of crafted. One contemporary accused shipyards of "building ships by the mile and cutting them off to length as required." They had the sailing qualities of a scow, but not the stability. Many capsized. The most famous example was the Royal George, which heeled and sank while lying off Spithead in 1782, with a loss of nine hundred lives.

By the time the Discovery was built, in 1789, the worst features of British naval architecture had been eradicated. if the hulls were still not swift, they were at least seaworthy. Their greatest virtue was strength: the Discovery's melon-shaped merchant hull was built from heavy oak timbers, assembled around a massive keel of elm. The Royal Navy added ten 4-pound cannons, installed accommodation for one hundred and called it a sloop-of-war. it was, in effect, an armed bus. Though stout, it was slow and cumbersome, traits that had direct bearing on the nature of Vancouver's work in the confined waters of the Northwest Coast.

Beaver

The rotting, stinking shell of the Discovery was still a convict hulk when, in August 1832, George Simpson, the Hudson's Bay Company's governor-in-chief for North America, made an unusual request of his bosses in London. He wanted a steamboat. This odd invention, whose awkward side levers and filthy stacks drew snorts of derision from true sailors,had only been in commercial service two decades. Yet Simpson was sure if such a vessel was stationed at the company post on the Columbia River it would soon reduce transportation costs and eradicate competition.

Princess Maquinna

The Canadian Pacific Railway steamer Princess Maquinna wascalled a lot of names in its day: Old Faithful, the Ugly Duckling, the Ugly Princess and, by a one-eyed Irish handlogger, Slatternly Streel. No one ever said it was pretty. The great blackened sides resembled flabby flanks, and the single skinny funnel looked like a ridiculously undersized stovepipe hat. Even the bow, normally the most rakish part of a vessel, was unappealingly perpendicular, as though the ship knew of the uncharted
reefs that littered its routes along the west coast of Vancouver island and was wincing in preparation for a collision.

Malahat

Carrie Nation. Gordon Gibson. Two people could not differ more and still be classified as Homo sapiens. Nation marched the US into Prohibition. Gibson swilled a bottle of scotch a day. Nation attacked city saloons with the cry, "Smash, for the love of the Lord, smash!" Gibson logged the west coast of Vancouver island and called himself "Bull of the Woods." Nation was small and nasal. Gibson was big and bass-voiced. Nation was prim, Gibson unbuttoned. Yet through the strange architecture of history, both figured in the odd, accidental life of a wooden-hulled schooner, the Malahat.

Built in Victoria to carry lumber in World War I, the Malahat was saved from oblivion twice: first by American Prohibition, which created a need for ships to lug bootleg liquor to California, and second by Gordon Gibson, the sledgehammer visionary who transformed the ship into the world's first self-propelled, self-loading log carrier in 1936.

Lady Alexandra

Transportation, to be ideal, must have certain aids
such as comfort, case, attendance, a touch of
pretension and a good culinary department.
-Aitken Tweedale, North by West in the Sunlight

If history was trusted to sound instead of to text, the register for the West Coast would include, along with the rattle of boom chains and the slap of salmon on a cannery line, a distinctive ship's whistle: one long, two short, one long. That signal was the trademark of the Union Steamship Company of BC. For seventy years, the Union's black-and-red-funnelled steamers bucked bad weather and dangerous waters to supply the logging camps, stump ranches, canneries and mines strewn among the bays and inlets north of Vancouver. The service was oddball, the schedules eccentric. But in their own distinctive way, Union steamers bound the province from north to south as firmly as the steel tracks of the Canadian Pacific Railway bound the nation east to west.

BCP No.45

As a magazine photographer, George Hunter was looking for the elusive combination of light and angle that makes a good shot. What he captured, in a single photo taken in Johnstone Strait in 1958, was the essence of the coastal fishing industry. in the foreground, a white, wooden-hulled seiner worked a set; behind, a fleet of similar vessels bobbed in the water under tumbling coastal mountains. it was beautiful and it was BC. Hunter knew he had a keeper as soon as the image emerged from the darkroom tray. others who saw the elegant photo thought so, too. The picture enjoyed a decade-long, self-propelled career that saw it splashed across calendars, the cover of the Star Weekly and, finally, Canada's five-dollar bill.

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